Under The Same Leaky Roof: For Better or For Worse
“I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” Gen. 3:16
Thriving Inside the Family
It’s family month in Ontario!
For most, it means a statutory holiday called Family Day on Feb. 16th! Who doesn’t want a paid holiday in the middle of the winter? It’s great to have a long weekend, a chance to break away and kick back a little.
For others, it means Valentine’s Day on Feb. 14, when we celebrate romantic love with buying flowers, chocolates and maybe even a dinner.
For us at Scott St it also includes our annual Kids Club Sunday on Feb. 22, where we celebrate God’s work among our community kids and their families. It gives us the chance to invite our community families to join us for the Morning Service and maybe stay for brunch.
And of course it also means today’s big celebration of us as the Family of God! It’s family month at Scott St Church!
It’s not just a chance to latch onto something that is happening in the wider culture, but to remind ourselves of the incredible importance of family life.
You may have heard me mention how the family unit is the core institution in society and thus needs to be protected and strengthened at all cost.
That from the days of Adam and Eve’s little family, through to the days of the grand families of the Patriarchs, and eventually into New Testament families such as Joseph and Mary all the way to our own families, God’s intent has always been the same. His intent is that the nuclear family be the institution that provides thriving environments, that allows for individuals to reach their God-given potential in life.
And that the nuclear family be protected with all other institutions such as the state, the church, and the employer, playing supportive roles in the success of the family.
The dream is for the family to truly be an oasis from the storms that ravage this world.
If you can picture an oasis in the desert, or a little island in an ocean full of raging water, or even an umbrella pitched to protect from the elements, then you have the picture of what the family unit is meant to provide for those in it.
People thrive in healthy, functional families. Husbands and wives thrive in loving relationships, not to mention children absolutely thriving in loving homes be they 5, 15 or 25.
The family unit, when functioning well, provides an incredible umbrella allowing those under it to thrive.
Over the next four weeks in this Family Month of ours we want to take a look at four key areas that will insure successful family living.
Such as, stick handling changing roles as people mature, in a sermon called “Growing Pains”.
Recovering from failures, in a sermon called “Family Feud”.
Managing the inevitable stresses of a complex, fast moving world, in a sermon called “Stress Mess”.
And this morning, looking at how roleplaying is key to creating this nurturing bubble, in this sermon called “For Better Or For Worse.”
What is a Family Unit?
When we speak of roleplaying we are not talking about playing with your kids. You know, dad pretending to be a dragon as he plays with his little princess, or pretending to be a horse as he lets his son ride him.
Roleplaying, as in each member of the family knowing their role and being committed to it.
It’s living out the principles of Ephesians 5 and 6:
“Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Eph. 5:22, 25
“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother - so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth. Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” Eph. 6:1-4
I realize that this sounds somewhat archaic, paternalistic and event sexist to post modern ears, with wives submitting to husbands and fathers being the ones to bring up children.
And I also realize that this is a direct reflection of the first century traditional family unit with the same father and mother in a first marriage and their 2.5 children. This is a far cry from the many family variations we have in our day.
Variations from the traditional family, to the co-habitating family, same-sex family, single parent family and many incredible variations within those.
So I am saying all that to say that what Paul wrote, he wrote within the only context he knew and that was the first century traditional family, which may sound a bid jarring to us.
You know what, it’s not just new definitions of the family but it’s also about the new realities some of you find yourself in.
Some of you have kids long gone and it’s just the two of you rattling around in the house. That also is a type of family.
Others of you while living alone still have extended families, with you as the grandparent, uncle or aunt (real or adopted), which puts you into a family as well.
While this was written to a nuclear family of mom and dad with their 2.5 kids at home, the need to role-play biblically still stands true.
There will always be fathers and father figures, mothers and mother figures, spouses and children.
Regardless if the kids are hers, his, both of theirs or even someone else’s. Regardless if he is your dad, stepdad or just Uncle Buck, or whether she is your mom or just your dad’s wife, this is still a family.
Even if the kids are grown, long gone and parents of their own, they are still your kids and they will look to you as their parent.
Even if you are the auntie or uncle, every family needs an eccentric aunt and dithering uncle. We need our patriarchs as much as we need our children.
So the point is that everyone has a role to play. You want your family to be successful - then play your role.
Of all the roles to play, I would suggest they come down to the interplay between two key sets of relationships, namely that between husbands and wives, and then parents and children.
Husbands Love Your Wives
The most primary interplay is that between partners, husbands and wives. It starts there.
You need a male and female. That’s the beginning of all sustainable life. To procreate, you need male and female.
I realize you can have surrogate mothers and test tube babies but all of it still points back to the sperm and the egg.
While there are variations, most relationships are that of husband and wife.
For that dynamic to play out well, the following needs to happen:
“Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord…. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Eph. 5:22, 25
What this talks about is roles that are played and attitudes displayed that have nothing to do with value, standing or hierarchy; meaning, one more important or over the other.
Actually, what Paul said was incredibly radical and revolutionary for his day. Let me explain.
Up until this point, the one owned the other, which was the case ever since the fall of man when part of the curse of sin meant that, “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” Gen. 3:16
He will own you, dominate you and keep you as a chattel. Unfortunately, in much of the world that is still so today.
So Paul comes along and within the family setting, fleshes out the new way of living that Jesus began when he gave value and dignity to all, including women, by seeing everyone as equals.
This is not a sermon on equality, but this is merely to say that Paul reflects that liberation and equality-granting is what Jesus brought about by placing it within the context of the family. He did this when he said that husbands are to love their wives.
Of course, husbands are to love their wives. That only makes sense to us, but in first century culture that was absolutely revolutionary.
Husbands did not love their wives and certainly not in the sacrificial, lay down your life for your wife sense that Paul had in mind when he used agape for love.
Marriages were economic transactions, wives purchased or traded in, and such were the property of the husband and treated as such.
Paul blows this wide open when he not only says that husbands are to love their wives but uses the most noble, sacrificial word for love known.
He could have said ‘eros’, which would have pointed back to taking what you can from her.
He could have said ‘philio’, which points to the love between two equal friends.
Instead he uses the word ‘agape’, which is the sacrificial, laying down your life seen best in Jesus.
It says in the Scriptures how “Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.” (John 3:16). That’s agape love.
It lays down its life for someone else. It puts aside self-interest in favor of the other. It puts the wellbeing and welfare of the other ahead of self. That’s agape love.
So guys, you want a better marriage, you want to see her respond better? Lay down your life for her. Make her wellbeing your number one priority. Don’t be a bully; don’t be cranky, grumpy and belligerent.
That’s why it says, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Eph. 5:25
Don’t treat her as though she is your possession, don’t even treat her as your equal but in many ways treat her as though she is more important to you than your own needs.
Treat her like Jesus treats you with grace, love and mercy, and you will be on your way to a great relationship!
Wives Submit to Your Husbands
Having said that let me now flip this on its ear. Wives guess what? Submit to your husbands!
“Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.” Eph. 5:22
Isn’t it interesting how everything Paul says to the ladies is summed up in three verses while what he says to the guys takes eight?
Not because guys were denser, but because it was more engrained in the chauvinistic culture of the post-Eden world that men would rule women than that women should submit to their husbands.
Now ladies, don’t get your fur up about the word submission. I know it’s a dirty word and that it carries all kinds of baggage and it’s been misused to justify dominating behavior.
The kind of submission referenced here is framed within the biblical notion of mutual submission.
When one submits to the other it is incredibly easy for the other to submit back. That’s why wives submitting to husbands is framed within the wider context of “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Eph. 5:21
“The term ‘mutual submission,’ then, implies that the marriage relationship is not as one-sided as many have imagined it through the centuries. It does not mean that the husband always commands and that the wife always submits. Mutual submission means that there are times when each partner defers to the other. Mutual submission recognizes individual competencies. Each partner also operates with a willingness to adapt during times of conflict. Obviously mutual submission can function only when both partners consider each other as equals. “
Nancy Van Pelt in ezinearticles.com
If that atmosphere of mutual submission isn’t there and you end up with inferiors and superiors, then there is no way that submission could ever happen.
That would be a recipe for disaster; for domination and suppression, which is absolutely not the spirit of Jesus.
You might actually find it surprising that you find Paul telling wives to submit to the sort of loving, sacrificial husbands Paul talks about. Why wouldn’t you want to submit to that?
You would think wives would love nothing more than to be in a give and take relationship based on equality and respect, right?
I need to tell you that in this struggle for submission there were other things at play.
That even with loving and giving husbands there was a new found trend among women in these Jesus/Pauline days. This saw women throw off the shackles of inequality, in favor of rising into places of domination themselves.
On the one hand, it’s understandable that if you were oppressed all your life and now set free, that for once you would want to turn the tables and dominate. This is exactly what happened among some of the Christian women in those days.
So some of them would dominate in church, others would rudely interrupt when someone else was speaking, others would want to stand on a soapbox and preach even though not qualified to do so.
While others again refused to submit to husbands who where anything but bullies, and ended up becoming bullies to their own husbands.
So Paul tries to create an atmosphere of mutual submission in his churches by saying things such as:
“I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.” 1 Tim. 1:12
Meaning, women don’t fall into the trap of men by using soapboxes and pulpits to bully.
He also says, “Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, if they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.” I Cor. 14:34, 35
Meaning, don’t use your freedom to interrupt the Service by shouting something out just because you don’t understand it.
Similarly, Paul says, “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord” so that mutual submission is achieved instead of either the male or the female becoming dominant.
A happy, functional family is one where mutual submission and care in the wellbeing of the other is more important than selfish exploits.
Fathers Don’t Exasperate Your Children
That now brings me to the second interplay, the one between parents and children, which I am going to tie together in this last section of my sermon.
“Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” Eph. 6:4
That he would be speaking to fathers makes perfect sense in the first century culture where only fathers and maturing boys were free beings.
Women had no rights so there was no history of kneeling down heavy on a child; if anything mothers would instinctively try to protect a child especially a daughter from the common chattel mentality of the times .
Bottom-line was that children were no more chattels than were wives; and that fathers (we might as well say ‘parents’) where not to rile nor ride their kids into the ground.
In fact, that’s what the word ‘exasperate’ means. Literally, it’s the image of kneeling upon something to the point of breaking it. It means to push too far, to be heavy handed and to frustrate your children to the point where they give up.
That’s what that words means. You don’t want your kids saying, “What’s the sense of trying? I can never please them. No matter what I do it’s not good enough. She’s so unreasonable.”
Instead parents are to “bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord”, which speaks to provide nurture, cause growth, mold gently while fostering an atmosphere of self-development.
Gently guide them, bite your tongue, be the mature one but don’t acquiesce. God has called you to be a role model.
Children Obey Your Parents
Which brings me to the second part of this interplay, namely the role of children toward their parents.
“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’—which is the first commandment with a promise— so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” Eph. 6:1-3
Here the wind shifts. Gone is the talk of submission, as though obedience is dependent on the other person.
This is not about you waiting for your dad to bow down to you. This is about you carrying out the directives your parents give you.
I know that is hard pill to swallow. Truth be known, we do not submit easily. It’s not natural to us.
Part of it is the remnant in us of Adam’s fall into sin giving us a natural disposition toward disobedience, and the other part is our God-given tendency to move toward self-actualization and independence.
Of course the assumption is that your parents aren’t idiots.
Paul assumes that both father and mother are living a life of sacrificial agape love with the interest of the child uppermost in their mind.
If your parents are reasonable and well adjusted people, then their hand of guidance is meant to bring you into a good space which is what Paul means when he says “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”
If your parents are dysfunctional, then this doesn’t work. Bottom-line is that you are never to be at a place of risk just because there is a call to obey.
There is much more I could say and should say but time has run out.
Let me bring it home. The family remains God’s way of bringing up functional, contributing individuals that can become followers of Jesus.
If that is broken, God has other methods to accomplish his dream for you. We’ve had young people become incredible functional followers of Jesus no thanks to their family life.
Sometimes God will use a youth group or a church community. Sometimes God will use a godly mentor or a surrogate such as a grandparent.
God will not spare anything to have you succeed in life. But His ideal is that the family unit be that place that allows for ‘live long and prosper.’
So we celebrate the family. We support the family. We pray for our families.
And together, as a church family, we walk alongside each other as we figure out how to become the strongest families we can be, allowing us in turn to become the strongest people we can be.
And what better way to start than by supporting our newest church family members as we close today?
The Prayer of Jesus – Lead Us Not Into Temptation
“Forgive us our debt as we forgive our debtors and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” Matthew 6:12, 13
The Hard Prayer of Jesus!
Well embedded in the prayer and thus sometimes hidden from sight, lies the most challenging aspect of the Lord’s Prayer and the one we stumble over the most.
I am talking about this unsettling business of forgiveness.
The need for forgiveness. And then forgiveness requested, forgiveness received and forgiveness offered, and how all of that is tied together.
It’s hard enough to have to admit your own need for forgiveness, but then to tie forgiving others with being forgiven hits a cord deep inside of us.
This is not to mention the related business of being tempted into sin, which is the reason why we need forgiveness in the first place.
All of this makes this the most challenging part of this prayer.
And I am sure that more than once people have been stopped dead in their tracks as they turned the corner in the prayer and came up against the aspect of forgiveness.
In fact, the story is told of the author Robert Louis Stephenson kneeling down to pray the Lord’s Prayer during the part of his life when he lived in the South Pacific and stopping abruptly mid prayer and leaving his house.
When asked by his wife what he was doing his only response was that he was not fit to pray this prayer that day.
She had no idea what was going on in his head that day, but obviously he got stuck around that whole question of forgiveness. As many people do.
William Barclay writes: “No one is fit to pray the Lord’s Prayer so long as the unforgiving spirit holds sway within his heart. If a man has not put things right with his fellow-man, he cannot put things right with God.”
We’ll unwrap this further in a few minutes but first we need to confront our own need to receive forgiveness from God.
As hard as it sometimes is to forgive others and sometimes even self, it’s even harder to admit our own need for forgiveness from the one who matters most, namely God.
Sin in The Modern World!
That prayer, “Forgive us our sins”, can only be prayed by those who have a deep awareness of their own sins, shortcomings and failures.
It may be easy for you to admit that you have sinned but it isn’t easy for everyone. Many stumble over this notion of having sinned, especially those who have lived decent lives.
If you haven’t done the top three sins of sex, drugs and rock & roll then how can you be a sinner, right?
Actually, the most recent data suggests that neither sex nor drugs are very high on the list of sins.
“A survey conducted by the Barna Group, concludes that the moral struggles that vex most Americans aren’t the salacious acts that drive the plotlines of reality television shows. Most Americans are too worn down or distracted to get snared by those vices, the survey concludes. The top three sins seducing most Americans: procrastination, overeating and spending too much time on media.” John Blake, CNN
In fact, Blake in his article goes on to say:
“The survey said that 60% of Americans admitted that they’re tempted to worry too much or procrastinate; 55% said they’re tempted to overeat, and 41% said they’re tempted by sloth, or laziness. The sex, drugs and rock and roll-like vices fell dead last in the temptation categories: 11% of Americans said they were tempted by drug abuse; 9% were tempted by sexually inappropriate contact.”
My point is that you need to admit that you have somehow sinned regardless of what that sin is before you can ever pray, “Forgive us our sins”!
So what are sins and what does it mean to sin?
Well, while we only have the English word ‘sin’, there are actually a number of Greek words that nuance out far better the meaning of sin than just in the English language.
1. Sin is Anomia
The first and most common word for sin is ‘anomia’.
Anomia means willful, reckless and intentional with an ‘I don’t care’ attitude. Boundaries mean nothing. Lines in the sand get wiped over.
It’s the willful going after what you want, come hell or high water.
This behavior of going after what you want clearly is sin.
“What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight.” James 4:1-2
This is the bully, the grabber, the taker and the user; the one who takes what they want regardless if it’s theirs or not. This is anomia.
Well, anomia is not me, you say. I know boundaries; I know what’s off limits, and right from wrong. So how can I be a sinner when I live for the most part an upright, moral life?
2. Sin is Parabasis
That’s where the next word ‘parabasis’ comes in. Anomia or willful transgression is not only word for sin. ‘Parabasis’ is another word for sin.
Parabasis literally means nudging up against the line. It’s coming so close to the line that sometimes your toes are on the other side.
When have we not stepped over the lines? Not that we shattered them to smithereens, but come up close enough so that our toes end up on the other side.
These are the fine lines that we sometimes cross over, the bending of the truth, the not keeping true to the spirit of things, the telling of white lies and the turning of blind eyes.
This is not recklessly crashing through boundaries but pushing up against them, and on occasion slipping through them.
“Do we always stay on the right side of the line which divides truth and falsehood? Do we never twist or evade the truth? Is there never an unkind word in our lives?” Barclay
It’s the very stuff Jesus riled against when he talked about the lines of murder and adultery becoming blurred.
“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment.” Matt. 5:21-22
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Matthew 5:27-28
When you look at it this way, who has us hasn’t crossed the line? That’s what ‘parabasis’ means. That’s also what sin is.
3. Sin is Paraptoma
Then sin can also be ‘paraptoma’. If parabasis is pushing and stepping over the lines then paraptoma is slipping across the lines as though you’ve slipped on ice.
Oops, didn’t mean to. Wasn’t intentional. Not testing borders. It just slipped out. I just lost my footing on the ice and slipped across.
Would never do this in our more sobering moments but in a moment of weakness and a moment of passion we crash through what otherwise would be boundaries.
That’s what sin as ‘paraptoma’ is!
“We speak of words slipping out; we are swept away by some impulse or passion which has momentarily gained control of us and which has made us lose our self control. The best of us can slip into sin when for the moment we are off guard.” Barclay
It’s the very thing that Jesus said would happen to Peter.
“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”
For every one of us there is a patch of ice. While not intentioned, we slip up and fall on our face. That is what ‘paraptoma’ as sin is.
4. Sin is Harmartia
Then there is ‘harmartia’. At its core, sin is not just slipping up, pushing boundaries or even willful transgressions, but it’s all about falling short of God’s ideal for us.
The most common word for sin is harmartia, which simply means missing the mark. This speaks to a common reality of falling short of what we could have been.
Who of us doesn’t feel that we have fallen short, and that we could have done more, and could have been better somehow.
It’s the three stages toward regret starting from ‘she will surely do something in life’, and then coming to ‘she could do something if she set her mind to it’, until finally arriving at the ‘she might have done something if only she would have’ stage.
These are the regrets over the ‘could have been’s of life. The sense that we are not what we could have been.
“When we realize that sin means the failure to hit the target, the failure to be all that we might have been and could have been, then it is clear that every one of us is a sinner.” Barclay
We all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God!
Please Forgive Me!
With these definitions in mind, it’s obvious that all of us are sinners, right? From the willful transgressor to the pusher of boundaries or even the slipper on ice, all of us fall short of the mark.
So we pray “Forgive us our sins”, and everything about God says that God will forgive us.
There is no sin too great or grave that God will not forgive.
There is no sin committed so often that you can exhaust his forgiveness.
I love the words of Psalm 103 where it says,
“God does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” Psalm 103:10-12
No matter how stained or vile a sinner may be, God’s forgiveness will always be available.
“Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.”
Here is the clincher: Settling the matter means not only coming to God for forgiveness, but also forgiving those who sinned against you.
Let all God’s people say “ouch”!
That’s why it says, “Forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us.”
There’s no ifs or buts nor any exclusions. This is the clearest language anywhere in the New Testament. Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who have sinned against us.
I don’t know how else to unwrap this. There are neither nuances to this nor multiple interpretations.
In some of his clearest words ever spoken, Jesus said, “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.” Matthew 6:14-15
If you refuse to forgive someone, it’s like you are saying to God not to forgive you.
If there is one thing that keeps you locked in a prison on earth and out of God’s holy heaven, it’s when there is sin in your life that has not been forgiven.
And to be forgiven means not only to ask for forgiveness, but also to forgive those who have sinned against you.
“If you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
Who of us have not had people that we’ve had to forgive? You live long enough and there will be those who will hurt, offend, betray and turn against you. Guaranteed.
And you can become either cold and callous and let it slide off you, or you can soak it in like poison and sit in its stew. You can even become vindictive, strike back and take matters into you own hand. None of which I would recommend.
Instead, forgive those who have sinned against you. Forgive again and again until the open wound becomes a distant scar.
“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” Matt. 18:21-22
This was not meant as a count-down that somehow at the 77th time you can stop. The language suggests ongoing and never ending, until the need for forgiveness fades away.
The same offender, the same offence. For some of us it will take 77 times before the wound heals into a scar.
We offer forgiveness not for some modern day self help mumbo jumbo, but because in light of the fact of how much God has forgiven my deep offences against Him, how can I not then turn around and forgive what others have done against me?
Lead Us Not Into Temptation
That actually brings us to the last aspect of the Lord’s Prayer, the one having to do with temptation.
“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” Matthew 6:13
I can’t help but wonder if the two aren’t somehow hinged together; that forgiving those who have sinned against us and not being led into temptation are somehow connected.
Now I realize there are many more temptations in life than just the one that turns hurts into lingering hurts, and being sinned against into a festering root of unforgiveness.
But surely among the temptations of life is precisely this temptation to sit in our wounds, not to extend forgiveness and to keep stewing in the murky soup of our hurts.
Lead me not into that temptation but deliver me from the sin of unforgiveness.
Yet having said that, it obviously goes further. This is a prayer to be delivered from all the things in life that can become temptations to us.
It is the prayer to be delivered from our slippery patch of ice.
Where’s your slippery ice? Where are you prone to fall down most easily? Where is your weak point and the buttons that set you off?
For each of us it’s different. What may be slippery ice to you may not even fizz on me and vice versa.
The most troublesome thing of the Lord’s Prayer has always been this idea that God could somehow lead us into temptation.
It clearly says, “Lead us not into temptation” and yet everything we know about God says that God doesn’t lead us into temptation.
“When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed.” James 1:13, 14
So how do you frame this up against you saying to God “Lead us not into temptation”?
The answer is in actuality understanding what is happening.
You know the saying, “Stuff happens”? Well, it’s true, stuff does happen.
By ‘stuff’ I mean the stuff of life; the good, the bad and the ugly. Especially the bad and ugly stuff of life can easily become temptations to us.
The struggles of life come our way as they do for all of us.
They can either become opportunities for great temptation with an eye toward us falling down on the ice, or these same struggles can become great tests of faith for which we have the wherewithal to withstand.
These struggles of life are absolutely neutral. They are neither good nor bad. They are what they are. These struggles of life – including when someone hurts or injures you – have upon them a huge tug of war either toward good or toward evil.
So let’s say a struggle comes your way. On that struggle, sits God with all the powers of heaven to help you see it as a test for which God gives you what you need to pass it.
On that same struggle sits the Devil, with all the powers of hell to have it become a temptation and a snare to you, to trip you up and to have you fall into sin.
It’s like a teeter-totter with God on the one side and the devil on the other side, both exerting influence on you to have this struggle either be a test that you pass with flying colors, or a temptation that will lead to sin and death.
Within that epic struggle, we pray not to be led into temptation but to be delivered from evil.
It’s the prayer that says for God to help me not to turn a struggle into a temptation or an occasion to sin, but to be delivered from it. Hopefully, the struggles of life would cause me to tap into everything that God has given me for godliness so that I can stand up under it!
This morning, in these closing moments, with these words of truth ringing in our ears, our gaze comes upon the Communion Table and the emblems on it.
When we see the life-giving sustenance of bread and wine, it is the Lord’s invitation to take from Him everything you need to live this life as an overcomer!
In all the struggles of life that you face, the Lord makes available His very best so that you can overcome, passing the test and being promoted to the next grade.
The Prayer of Jesus: Our Daily Bread
“Give us today our daily bread.” Matthew 6:10
Pretzel Prayer & Other Assorted Prayers!
I loved Kelly’s story of the Pretzel Prayer from last week. I had never heard that before, and assumed that a pretzel was just that…. a pretzel.
I didn’t know that an industrious little monk from the 16th Century didn’t want to see the leftover bread dough just thrown out. Instead he gathered it up, and came up with a unique pretzel formation
For him, that specific pretzel formation was just what busy little children should do when praying. They should fold their arms the way of the pretzel instead of being distracted.
It was almost like a self-imposed straightjacket for effective prayer J!
It reminded me of how I prayed as a kid. I used to imagine prayer like driving the autobahn with different stops along the way. I had to make all the right stops in order to get to the destination, which was then the end of the prayer.
Stops along the way included praying for God to forgive my sins, and another stop was for God to bless my family. Another one was for God to be with my relatives and so on.
I usually kept this routine up, as a way for me not to forget what to pray for.
In some ways it’s what the Rosary is to the Catholics where each bead represents a particular prayer such as a Hail Mary, Glory Be, the Lord’s Prayer, etc.
Before you dismiss this as sounding too religious, please keep in mind that there’s something about us that requires reminders or tags along the way. This is so that we don’t get stuck in a rut, head into a wrong destination, or run out of fuel when it comes to prayer.
Of course, the assumption is that a child of God will be heard by God because they are God’s child, but even children of God can get stuck in ruts, run in circles, or ride hobby horses when it comes to prayer.
This is why Jesus gave us what we call the Lord’s Prayer, as a way to keep us on track, and to cover all the essentials in prayer.
Frankly, the Lord’s Prayer is not a child’s prayer. It is an incredibly challenging way to pray.
Ø Speaking into our lives about such heart issues as the need to be born again so that God becomes our Father;
Ø Learning that it means each of us is not an only child but one of many, and that God’s answers are always balanced to benefit all and not just for me, myself and I;
Ø Remembering who is holy and who is not, and how to reverence our holy God;
Ø Then there’s the whole question of God’s reign coming into our broken lives and our broken world.
These are all tough aspects in an effective prayer life; not to mention next week’s sermon on forgiving others so that we might be forgiven, and the need not to let the challenges of life become temptations and opportunities to sin.
None of this stuff is easy. The Lord’s Prayer is challenging.
Which is why at a glance you would think that today’s topic of “Give us today our daily bread” is somewhat of a breather.
It doesn’t get under our skin. It doesn’t call us to stand in the gap for intercession. It doesn’t probe our hearts for submission, forgiveness or surrender. None of that stuff.
It is a prayer for our daily bread… and who of us doesn’t love a freshly baked loaf of bread every day?
Ah, the fragrance of freshly baked bread! It’s the fragrance of life, feasting and abundance. Bread is the symbol of sustenance, nourishment, physical needs met. (Satt Gegessen!)
So yes, to a line in the Lord’s Prayer that for once goes to where my natural instinct takes me, namely into the world of physical needs more than met.
Freshly baked bread. Yes!
The Bread of Life
Well, what if I were to tell you that the early Christians and church fathers never saw this prayer as being about physical sustenance?
From earliest times on, this was about spiritual sustenance with a view toward a future feast in the heavens.
This bread was a reference to the Lord’s Supper. The bread on the table at Communion was “our daily bread”, and hence the Lords’ Supper and the Lord’s Prayer were to go hand in hand.
When “Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body,” (Matthew 26:26), that this is what “Give us today our daily bread,” was all about.
In other words, this prayer is the desire to be nourished by the spiritual food of Christ’s broken body and shed blood, which makes this an expression of our longing to be spiritually nourished.
So, in many ways, this sees Jesus as the ‘bread of life’.
“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
The Day of the Great Feast!
Jesus stills our greatest hunger, which is the hunger of the soul, and with it points to a future day of celebration where all hunger will truly be stilled.
Some day there will be what is known as the great ‘Marriage Supper of the Lamb’!
“Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready. And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” Rev. 19:7, 9
On that day and at that event, the Bride and the guests will truly feast and the deepest longing of the loneliest heart will be fully stilled and satisfied.
You see, no matter how many times we may fill our empty hearts with the Living Bread in the here and now, there will always be a sense of “a little more” and of “not quite full yet”.
With it comes the temptation to grab for the bread of this world, which differs for all of us ranging from food to booze, and everything in between.
That’s why the prayer for daily bread is so important, because yesterday’s bread doesn’t still this morning’s hunger. We need constant replenishment. We need daily bread.
The fact that we to ask for daily bread underlines this idea that like the manna of old it would only be enough for today.
We need manna every morning, so that in our spiritual hunger we don’t look around at this world’s bread and do as the children of Israel did who longed for the bread and pot of Egypt.
There will always be the remnants of this lingering hunger until we eat at the table at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, at which point all cravings and hunger will fall away.
We will then be fully satisfied for all eternity, which is what Jesus meant when he said: “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” Luke 14:15
Until that day, how are you doing this morning? Let me ask you - when is the last time you feasted, really feasted on the goodness of God?
When’s the last time you had manna from heaven? When’s the last time He filled you up to overflowing?
When’s the last time you were so full of the Bread of Heaven that you had no appetite for the pleasures of this world?
Or maybe you have never feasted on the goodness of the Lord, and you have never known what it means to be fully satisfied with the deepest, most primal longing filled.
This is your moment! Jesus is here to fill you up to overflowing.
It was Jesus who said: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” John 6:35
I love the old hymn “All My Life Long” where it talks about this ageless hunger that can only be stilled in the Living Bread.
All my life long I had panted for a draught from some cool spring that I hoped would quench the burning of the thirst I felt within.
Feeding on the husks around me til my strength was almost gone longed my soul for something better only still to hunger on.
Poor I was, and sought for riches something that would satisfy,
But the dust I gathered round me only mocked my soul’s sad cry.
Well of water, ever springing, bread of life, so rich and free,
Untold wealth that never faileth, my Redeemer is to me.
Then the refrain, the answer: Hallelujah! I have found Him whom my soul so long has craved! Jesus satisfies my longings. Through His life I now am saved.
Don’t let this moment go by without you opening your heart for the sweet aroma of the living bread of heaven.
A Shopping List!
So the church fathers and earliest Christians understood this prayer “Give Us Today Our Daily Bread” to be a plea for spiritual sustenance in this bone-dry desert.
Until, that is, they found the papyrus fragment.
There have always been those who have wanted to push the prayer into the physical realm, suggesting that God is concerned about our physical bread and life.
The problem was that there was no evidence that the wording ‘daily bread’ referred to anything other than Jesus as the living bread….. until they found the Epiousios Papyrus.
What is the Epiousios Papyrus, you ask?
Papyrus was the scroll-like material that the ancients scripted on.
In the early part of the 20th Century, such a scroll was found and it contained the illusive word Epiousios, which means daily bread.
Up until that find, the only other place where Epiousios was found was in the Lord’s Prayer, as in ‘our daily bread’.
Matthew and Luke were the only ones ever to use that word, and most scholars thought they made it up.
To everyone’s surprise, the papyrus fragment not only used the word epiousios as in ‘daily bread’, but get this, it was a grocery-shopping list.
On someone’s shopping list, somebody wrote “and don’t forget to get today’s bread”.
“It was only in the twentieth century that a single additional use of the word seemed to be discovered. The document in which it was found is a 5th-century shopping list. The word epiousios is written next to the names of several grocery items. This seems to indicate that it was used in the sense of "enough for today." Friedrich Preisigke
Incredible! A 5th-century shopping list, with a reminder to buy supplies for certain food for the coming day.
This shopping list called it ‘Daily Bread’. Who would have thought?
With it, everything shifted. All of a sudden, a world of possibilities opened up in terms of what “Give us today our daily bread” means.
It does mean not just spiritual food, but also physical nourishment. God is interested in my physical well-being; that I have enough bread on my table.
“So very simply what this petition means is, ‘Give me the things we need to eat for this coming day. Help me to get the things I’ve got on my shopping list when I go out this morning. Give me the things we need to eat when the children come home from school and the men folk come in from work. Grant that the table be not bare when we sit down together today.’ This is a simple prayer that God will supply us with the things we need for this coming day.” William Barclay
Seeing his prayer through that lens opens up a world of possibilities such as:
1. God cares for our physical lives
To God our physical lives are as important as our spiritual lives.
In fact, God cared so much about our physical lives that He sent Jesus into this world as a physical life form.
Jesus was greatly concerned for the physical well being of others. How many times did he heal people physically? How many times was he concerned when people had nothing to eat?
How can we ever forget the time he made sandwiches last until all were fed or even the time when he cooked breakfast for his disciples?
God cares deeply for our physical lives and so, yes, we can and should bring to God our physical needs such as finance, health, relationships, and the many things in between.
2. It’s One Day At A Time
Like the manna of old, this bread was only going to last for today. This is our ‘daily’ bread, and not our weekly or monthly bread.
This prayer says ‘help us to live one day at a time and not to be anxious for tomorrow’.
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.”
Matthew 6:25, 31-32
So this is a prayer about trusting God for the provisions needed for this day, while leaving tomorrow in His hands.
3. God Provides the Seed
This prayer also gives God the rightful place in terms of who provides what in our physical lives. This prayer says that at the end of the day it is God who gives us our daily bread.
It’s His seed that bakes the bread. We may be doing the baking but it’s God who provides the seed.
“Neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.” 1 Cor. 3:7
It takes away the arrogance of assuming that it’s all up to us. At any moment God can pull the plug. People in their prime can be cut down. We are not invincible.
Every breath is a gift from God and at the end of the day God provides the seed for us to bake our bread.
4. We Bake the Bread
Then there is the flipside to this, which says that God may provide the seeds but it won’t be bread until we bake it.
Praying “Give us today our daily bread” doesn’t mean that loaves and loaves of bread will start falling like pennies from heaven.
It means: “What must I do to see bread on my table? While at the end of the day God may make things grow, I will have to cultivate the seed, harvest that seed, and bake that bread.”
Paul’s words in I Corinthians, about God making things grow, also talks about our role:
“I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.” 1 Cor. 3:6
Loaves of bread won’t fall out of heaven.
“If a man prayed this prayer, and then sat back and waited for bread to fall into his hands, he would certainly starve. It reminds us that prayer and work go hand in hand and that when we pray we must go on to work to make our prayers come true.”
So what is it you need to do? No one owes you anything. This is not a welfare state where we show up cap in hand. We pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and earn our living by the sweat of our brow.
As Paul said, “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”
2 Thess. 3:7-10
So praying for our daily bread is about us finding the “get up and go”, to do our part, to earn that bread.
5. Enough Bread for All!
Lastly, this prayer recognizes that the bread we have we share.
This is not ‘my’ bread any more than this is about ‘my’ Father in heaven.
Remember how we said that the Lord’s Prayer teaches us to pray ‘our Father’ instead of ‘my father’? This means that God is the Father of many, and that I am not an only child or somehow a princess?
Growing up in a family of many takes away some of the selfishness about me, myself and I. And when God answers your prayers, it is always within the context of making sure that none of his other children lose out or get hurt.
The same thing is true with “Give us today our daily bread”. It’s a prayer that all of us would have enough bread.
Did you know that we have more than enough food in this world to give everyone three square meals a day?
We have enough food in this world to feed 10 billion people and yet one billion people go to bed hungry every night?
This prayer concerns itself with that injustice and says we should remain bothered and restless about global injustice. Not only should we do our part to alleviate hunger, but also yearn for the day in God’s Kingdom when no one goes hungry.
“This prayer teaches us never to be selfish with our prayers. This prayer is not only a prayer that we may receive our daily bread; it is also a prayer that we may share our daily bread with others.”
Come to the Table!
So in closing, there is very much a physical dimension to this prayer. But I don’t ever want it to end there, because “man does not live by bread alone but by the living giving Word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”
First and foremost, the ancients understood this prayer to be for our spiritual bread.
As Jesus said, “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” Mark 8:36
You can own all the breadbaskets in the world brimming to the top with loaves and loaves of bread, but if in your soul you don’t have the bread of life then you have nothing.
Your table may be full but if your heart is empty, you have nothing.
You do not live by bread alone! So this morning, this invitation for the bread of life is yours! As we will sing:
“This is the air I breathe, your holy presence living in me
This is my daily bread, your very word spoken to me
And I’m desperate for you. And I’m lost without you!”
The Prayer of Jesus: Thy Kingdom Come!
“Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Matthew 6:10
Effective prayer …. who doesn’t like an effective prayer? None of us would ever want to pray a useless prayer or a meaningless prayer.
We all want prayers that reach heaven, are effective and make a difference, right?
So how do you do that? What makes for an effective prayer?
We know that James says: “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” (Jam. 5:16) and just to proove his point he mentions Elijah the prophet as being effective in prayer:
“Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.” Jam. 5:17, 18
You pray for rain to stop and it actually stops; and then for the rain to come, and it begins to rain – that’s effective prayer!
I realize that a whole lot of things had to line up for it to be the right time for the rains to stop and then come again.
Certainly, this was an unusual circumstance that cannot replicated willy-nilly. I mean, how many good people of faith have prayed the rain prayer and it hasn’t happened? And for how many people was rain an answer to prayer while for others that same rain was the exact opposite?
This is not a sermon on natural law and divine intervention so I don’t want to get hung up on the nuances of God sending rain because somebody has prayed.
What I want us to see is that there is such a thing as effective prayer.
While it may have something to do with what and how you pray, you need to know that it has more to do with who is doing the praying.
Elijah prayed and God answered. There was something about Elijah that made God answer.
Lest you think that he was this superhero prophet and this incredible man of God that was holier than most and thus God heard his prayer, James balances that by reminding us that the man “was a human being just as we are.”
Elijah went home to his wife and kids at the end of his day just like we do. He had a mortgage to pay, groceries to buy and had to look after his house and family. This was all just like you and me.
So don’t put him on a pedestal by thinking that it takes a prophet to have an effective prayer.
Do you know what it takes to have an effective prayer life? It starts with being a righteous person.
James says: “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”
That’s actually a good segue into the Lord’s Prayer because the Lord’s Prayer starts out with this same idea of a righteous person.
At the very start of the prayer it says “Our Father” which points to a righteous person. Only a righteous person can legitimately say “Our Father”!
A righteous person is someone who is in a right relationship with God. A right relationship with God is one where God has become our Father and we his children.
That’s what makes someone righteous.
That is a place in life that you come to. None of us are born as children of God.
We become a child of God with God as our Father when we accept Jesus’ offer to remove the barrier between God and us, namely our sins.
The moment we ask Jesus to do that for us, we are brought into the family of God as sons and daughters with God as our Father.
That’s what it means to be in a right relationship with God, which is the basis of being a righteous person.
Such a person will have an effective prayer life not only because of how they pray but even more so because of who they are, namely children asking their Father.
So the very first thing is that you have to be a child born into the family of God. We call this being born-again.
This is what opens up the communication channel to heaven.
A Prayer Guide!
Once that channel is opened, then the question becomes what is it that you say? How do you actually pray? What do you pray about?
That’s where the Lord’s Prayer becomes such a helpful guide. It gives you the pattern. It’s like your own personal guide to effective prayer. Wow!
So what’s in that prayer guide? Last Sunday we mentioned how the first thing is not about asking either for others or for self but it’s about adoration, worship and giving God the honor that is due.
He may well be our Father, but don’t forget that he is “Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be your name.”
Once you have put yourself into that frame of mind where you see Him as God Almighty, holy, sovereign, majestic and glorious and you give him the honor due his name, then and only then do you come to the first ask.
The first ask is not about you or what you need. Our daily bread isn’t even on the horizon yet at this point.
The first thing up is this prayer for the Kingdom of God to come.
“Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Matt. 6:10
It’s not about us and our needs; but then again, in a way, it is about us and our needs because when we pray “your kingdom come on earth” it also includes us.
We are on earth as well, and among those for whom the Kingdom of God has not yet fully come.
So this prayer is about us, just not in the sense of “give me”. This is about God’s kingdom needing to come in us and in this world.
The Inward Look!
I love how William Barclay captures the essence of the kingdom of God. In his “Daily Study Bible”, he talks about the kingdom of God being that place where God’s will is being done perfectly.
“The Kingdom of God is a society upon earth where God’s will is as perfectly done as it is in heaven.”
If there have been moments in your life when God’s will was perfectly being done, then at that moment the fullness of God’s kingdom has come for you. Ever had a moment like that?
Of course, for us as children of God who are mortals it fades in and fades out. There are moments when God’s will is perfectly being done in an attitude, a response, an action or a gesture.
That is the moment when God’s will is being done and the moment when God’s kingdom has come. If we could only freeze that moment and preserve it somehow.
Unfortunately it slips through our fingers. That moment of selfless perfection falls apart far too quickly because of our sinful nature that wages war inside of us, causing the kingdom of God to fade away.
This is the prayer about God’s will in my life. It’s about my knees bending; about my life reflecting the beautiful life of Jesus.
It’s focusing on areas out of alignment. For each one of us that looks different, but I bet each of us knows exactly what is out of alignment with what God would want.
The kingdom of God, far from a social or cultural or territorial matter, is first and foremost a personal matter.
Let your kingdom come in me, Lord. How? It can come by aligning my will with your will in all areas of my life.
So that the beautiful moments of total submission to the will of God, in a way that reflects the beauty of Jesus in all that I say, do and think, would become more and more evident in my life.
That’s what that prayer is, folks. My life is to be aligned with what God would want.
“The Kingdom is in fact the most personal thing in the world. The Kingdom demands the submission of my will, my heart, my life. It is only when each of one of us makes his personal decision and submission that the Kingdom comes.” Barclay
In the same breath as us declaring God’s sovereignty, reign and holiness in “hallowed be your name”, we also say “let God’s reign and holiness come into my life!”
There is no sense saying ‘hallowed be your name’, without also saying ‘let your kingdom come.’
The two go hand in hand. The one declares God’s sovereignty in heaven, while the other seeks to have that sovereign reign come into every sphere of my life.
The Outward Look!
Then and only then does this prayer also mean us asking for that reign to come into the world: “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
Again, keep in mind that only as you pray for his reign to come into you, do you have the moral authority to pray for it to come everywhere else as well.
It would be the height of hypocrisy if all we ever prayed is for God’s will to be done around us, without wanting his will to be done in us personally.
So as we bow our knees, as we pray this prayer for God’s will to be done in terms of how I live my life, I then look around me and quickly see how little of what I see actually lines up with God’s utopian kingdom. And I pray for alignment.
This misalignment I see drives me to my knees, makes me stand in intercession and pray for every knee to bow.
This prayer imagines a world where every knee is bowed to a loving, benevolent God. A world where there is no pain, no suffering and no injustice. A world free of selfishness and corruption. This prayer imagines such a world.
So how do you even begin this as you look around? Where do you start?
Like concentric circles that move from the bull’s eye outward, this prayer starts with the misalignment to God’s will at our doorstep and moves out from there.
You know, honestly? You can spend your life praying “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” There will be no shortage. Misalignment is everywhere.
Therefore this prayer is also about awareness. Create in me an awareness of misalignment. Let my radar always be on, Lord. Let me recognize misalignment to the will of God wherever I go.
Where I can intervene, let me have the courage to do so. That’s also in that prayer. This makes it a prayer that I try to answer whenever I can.
If I see misalignment to the will of God and I can do something about it, let me have the courage to step in. It is not turning the other way, nor is it walking away.
This prayer walks toward the misalignment and tries to intervene. This prayer makes this my problem.
The scriptures are full of interventionism.
From the Parable of the Good Samaritan where the Samaritan intervened to help the dying man to James’ exhortation to help someone in need (“Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?” Jam. 2:15, 16) to Isaiah’s declaration of what a true fast is (“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?” (Is. 58:6, 7), the message has always been one of intervention.
This prayer seeks to self-answer wherever possible.
Without a willingness to self-answer, there is no sense praying at all since James bluntly states, “What good is it if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such a faith save him?” Jam. 2:14, meaning, “If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?” Jam. 2:16.
It is a self-answering prayer.
It is a prayer of alignment to the will of God that begins with my life and my issues, starting with what is right at my doorstep, and then moves from there outward in concentric circles.
It is intercession, it is awareness and, wherever possible, it is intervention.
Lastly, this outward look is not about flesh and blood. As much as intervention is about flesh and blood and helping people in tangible ways in real time, it is more than that.
While we help where we can and thus answer our own prayers for God’s will do be on earth, we realize that this runs far deeper than just an intervention or a handout.
That at the end of the day, behind every misalignment are unseen rulers, authorities, powers of this dark work and spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
Our struggle is with those evil forces in this world.
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Eph. 6:12
So this prayer also becomes intercession and even spiritual warfare as we recognize that behind every evil act lies an evil spirit. We do as Paul says:
“For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”
2 Cor. 10:3-5
Come Lord Jesus, Come!
Yet for all of our intercession and intervention, we quickly realize we will never win this war while on this planet.
No matter how hard we pray, the kingdom of God will never fully break into this world until Jesus again sets foot on the planet.
This doesn’t deter us from seeing shades of the kingdom here and there, nor does it stop us from doing our utmost with seeing the kingdom come, but at the end of day we realize that it will only come when Jesus comes.
We see it even within ourselves. Try as we may, we still teeter back and forth, between old and new, spiritual and carnal. And that goes on well into our older years.
This is not a defeatist attitude nor surrender to the less than ideal, but the realization that within us is this tug of war.
Paul acknowledges that when he writes to the saints in Rome:
“Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Rom. 7:21-25
It doesn’t mean we give in to it, and it certainly doesn’t excuse bad behavior, since in the very next chapter Paul unfolds the ministry of the Holy Spirit meant to help us overcome:
“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you[a] free from the law of sin and death.” Rom. 8:1-2
So even as the Spirit of God stirs us toward holiness and righteous living we know that the tug of war continues on in us.
This struggle will continue on until the day when we will be freed from our conflicted dual nature as our current imperfections fall away.
“I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed-- in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.” 2 Cor. 15:51-52
So this prayer “Your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” is not only a look inward so that more of his kingdom will come in me, and not only a look outward so that more of his kingdom will come in what I see outside of myself.
It is also the upward look that is captured best in the ancient Aramaic word Paul used, ‘Maranatha’, meaning “Come, Lord Jesus, come!”
In the great Jewish tradition of the Kaddish prayer recited at the close of every synagogue service, which expressed the deep longing for the Messianic Kingdom to come, people prayed:
“Exalted and hallowed by his great name in the world which he created according to his will. May he let his kingdom rule in your lifetime and in your days and in the lifetime of the whole house of Israel, speedily and soon. And to this we say: amen.”
This is known as the consolation of Israel and it is this Spirit inspired waiting, yearning and praying captured in the heart of Simeon:
“Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him.” Luke 2:25
This yearning for the Kingdom to finally come is captured in the word Maranatha (say it with me).
Come Lord Jesus, come!
The Prayer of Jesus: Hallowed Be!
“This, then, is how you should pray: “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.” Matthew 6:9
Prayer Changes Things!
On the cusp of a new year our minds turn to prayer. At least they used to.
Years ago we would begin a new year in prayer starting with what used to be known as the Watchnight Service, where we would literally ring in the new year with prayer.
I remember this so well. Getting on our knees just before midnight and getting up (or wake up) just after midnight and voila! we were in a new year. We prayed it in!
Then there used to be a Week of Prayer in early January, where we would gather either by ourselves or with other churches for Prayer Services.
That became Days of Prayer, which eventually fizzled out as well.
These days most churches don’t even mention prayer in their program lineup. Not that prayer ever was a program but that times of corporate prayer would be announced and encouraged.
All of this seems to be a thing of the past. What a shame that is because as they say, prayer still changes things! Prayer moves the arm of God.
On more than one occasion Jesus linked prayer to seeing things happen that otherwise would not. So he said things such as:
Matthew 7:7 “Ask, and it will be given to you seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.”
Mark 11:24 “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”
John 14:13-14 “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.”
James summed it up best when he wrote: “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” James 5:16
Prayer changes things, folks! Think about the situations of life where we need to see things change? In your life and in my life, and in the lives of our neighbors and friends, we need to see things change.
You can wish upon a star all you want, but only in prayer are we able to align our situations with the will of God.
Yet prayer is not a magic wand that you wave, or a one-armed bandit that you pull down, any more than it is finding the right set of words and saying them in a certain way.
Instead, prayer comes first and foremost out of relationship with God.
In the Lord’s Prayer, which is actually not the Lord’s prayer but the prayer that Jesus gave for us to pattern our prayers on, it begins with the word “Father” which definitively suggests relationship.
“Our Father who art in heaven.”
What that says to us is that effective prayer flows out of a relationship with God that has him as our Father and us as his children.
These are not magic words that you recite at bedtime as though these words magically open heaven’s doors. There is no mystical power in the arrangements of the words.
Saying “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” (KJV) does not bring us closer to answered prayer than if we were to use more contemporary language such as “and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us.” (NLT).
It is not the words that matter. Jesus didn’t say this is what you should pray but instead he said this is how you should pray.
The very first thing that you are up against is this question of ‘Who is God to you?’
If God is your Father, then prayer is like two-way communication with your dad. You speak, He listens. He speaks, you listen. That’s prayer.
That’s the first thing that needs to be settled. Is he your Father and are you his child?
If you are, then of course you pray, for it’s like being on speaking terms with your Father. Which son or daughter doesn’t talk to their father? Which father would never talk to their child?
However, if you are not his child, then God will seem foreign, distant and remote to you. It would be like two strangers who don’t even know the other exist. Prayer would be reduced to a meaningless ritual.
This is the first thing you come up against. This question of him as your Father and you as his child needs to be settled. Otherwise nothing about prayer will make sense.
Am I a Child of His?
So let’s go to that question for a moment. Am I a child of God and is He my Father? Well, some would say everyone is a child of God and He is the Father of everyone.
While that may be a nice sentimental thought and a common enough idea in our days, the Bible points in a totally different direction.
The Bible paints a picture of estrangement and separation. This dates back to the days when our ancestors were barred from the place where they once did have relationship and fellowship with God.
The place was Eden. Prior to the first act of willful disobedience, we see a world where humanity and deity existed side by side in a father-child type relationship.
This was all shattered when our ancestors committed that first act of sin which was unlike any other sin ever committed by anyone else.
It was sin committed by people who were morally good and had no inherent bent toward sin as we have today. In their inherent goodness, they shattered everything when they chose to sin.
It set events into motion that led not only to their expulsion from the presence of God, reducing them to aliens and foreigners instead of sons and daughters, but also that of their entire posterity.
All of their children, and children’s children, right down to our generation. That’s why it says in the Bible, “through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners.” Rom. 5:19
We and our children, and all of their children, were born in this state of being separated.
“Adam’s sin is the cause and ground of the depravity, guilt and condemnation of all his posterity, simply because Adam and his posterity are one and, by virtue of their organic unity, the sin of Adam is the sin of the race.” Augustus Strong
What does that have to do with prayer, you ask? I thought this was a sermon on prayer.
It has everything to do with prayer and brings us right back to how effective prayer starts. It rises and falls on whether we are children of God.
The prayers of those estranged from God will be spoken as if in a hazy fog.
Those who cannot say that they are children of God can not therefore be on speaking terms with someone who considers himself foremost to be a Father.
Of course the good news is that every provision has been made for everyone to become a child of God. No one needs to be separated. No one needs to be estranged. Ever.
Let me read to you the passage that captures this hope best:
“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.” Eph. 2:1-5
“For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household.” Eph. 2:18-19
That’s why we use phrases such as adoption, sonship, born into the family, brothers and sisters, and being born-again.
It explains the act of spiritual transformation that makes us into sons and daughters of God. We were made alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions.
This great awakening transpires so much so that you become a legitimate child of God with all the rights and privileges that it carries.
It brings about relationship with God on such an intimate level that God becomes your father and you his child.
That is the beginning of effective prayer! There is nothing more effective than a child talking to their heavenly Father.
Which father in their right mind would not listen to their own beloved child?
One Child Among Many
But notice how it’s framed. We are to pray “Our Father” instead of what? Instead of “My Father”. He is not only my Father. I am not an only child. He has many children making him the Father of many.
There is something about being in a household full of kids that makes you realize you are not a prince or princess. It does away with the assumption that we are all that matters.
Absolutely; we’ve been adopted in! We are legitimate sons and daughters, and we can come to our Father expecting to be heard and responded to.
But we are not spoiled brats. I am not an only child. We are not to pray “My Father”. My needs aren’t the only ones. His responses to my prayers are always balanced with his responses to the prayers of all his children.
“It is very significant that in the Lord’s Prayer the words I, me and mine never occur; it is true to say that Jesus came to take these words out of life and to put in their place we, us and ours. God is not any man’s exclusive possession. The very phrase ‘Our Father’ involves the elimination of self.” William Barclay
So when responding to us and when answering us, our Father keeps the whole in mind. It isn’t just your interest any more than it is just what you need that matters.
As a father I am not going to give something to one child that is going to hurt another child of mine, am I?
This explains why his answers sometimes may not be what you might expect. You try being the father of so many where something granted to one child will have a trigger effect among the lives of so many others.
So Father knows best. He also knows what’s best for you.
If children had their way every single time and if every single request would always be granted, can you imagine the chaos that would ensue?
This lies behind receiving answers that we may not have wanted. There is always a bigger picture at play.
It’s not “Father, Give Me My Daily Bread”!
Besides, if a child only ever talks to you when they want something how quickly we would feel used.
Notice how the Lord’s Prayer doesn’t go to our needs as soon as we open our mouth.
It doesn’t say, “This is how you should pray; Father, give me may daily bread”. It’s not the first thing on the list. Not even the second thing. Nor even the third. Way down and well into the prayer does it eventually come around to my daily bread.”
That’s also putting things into a right perspective. Asking for my daily bread the moment I open my mouth would be akin to a spoiled child only coming to their father when they need something.
We as parents love when our kids just want to hang with us, right? We love that!
It means they really want to be with us. It means the world to us, to know that we are more than their personal ATM machine!
It’s “Our Father Who Art In Heaven”
Yet our kids hanging with us doesn’t mean a blurring of the relationship lines either.
We are the parents and they are the children, and while we want to be close and intimate there is always this understanding that kids are not our ‘best buds’.
We are more than best friends. Our role is that of a parent providing guidance, direction and support.
If that is true in the natural order of things, how much more is it true between God and us?
This is what lies behind praying: “Our Father who art in heaven.”
This reminds us of who is who, and who is where. God is God and we are not. God is in his holy heaven while we live on this stinking planet.
Let us always remember who in the relationship is the Holy One.
I am almost afraid to say that here because I really don’t think we are in danger of reducing God down to our level.
If anything, we tend to err more on the side of not having enough confidence when it comes to approaching God, than being cocky or treating God with too much familiarity.
I am more concerned with the residue left over of once having been alienated from God, creating a kind of doubt as to whether I really even belong in the family of God and why God would even hear my prayers?
If anything, we are too shy, too unsure, and too timid, which is a huge concern of mine.
It keeps away us from coming to God with the kind of confidence needed to lay claim to the promises of God in a forthright manner.
So I wish we’d have greater confidence in prayer and that we would come to God more frequently with a greater degree of confidence, rooted in knowing who we are as children of God.
But then there is the other side as well.
The side that forgets that God is in his holy heaven, and He is an absolutely pure and spotless being. The only reason why we could even be so bold as to come to him in prayer is because of the amazing grace of God.
“We must never use the word Father in regard to God cheaply, easily, and sentimentally. God is not an easy-going parent who tolerantly shuts his eyes to all sins and faults and mistakes. This God, whom we can call Father, is the God whom we must still approach with reverence and adoration, and awe and wonder. God is our Father in heaven, and in God there is love and holiness combined.” William Barclay
I am as concerned that that is missing, as I am concerned about those who always cower in a corner and never lift their eyes toward heaven.
Hallowed be Your Name
Do you know what it comes down to? Understanding what “hallowed be your name” means.
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name”, it says.
Hallowed is a word we never ever use. When was the last time you said hallowed?
Except here in the Lord’s Prayer, it is a word never used, which means most have no idea what it actually means.
“Hallowed” comes from the word “hagios” which simply means to be different or separate from the rest.
A priest who is hagios is separate from all other people. A temple is hagios because it’s different from other buildings. The Lord’s Day is hagios because it’s different from all other days.
What this means is that God’s name needs be treated differently from all other names and given a position that is absolutely unique!
In our coming to God there is awe and deep, deep respect for God’s name. “Hallowed be your name.” Holy, separate, unique be your name above all other names.
When we say “your name” we don’t mean to say that only your name is holy, but that God’s entire being and His very existence is absolutely holy.
If you know anything about Hebrew thought, then you would know that someone’s name refers to their entire being and character.
Wow, that’s putting God where God belongs.
He is the God of heaven and his name and entire being is set apart from anything else on earth, under the earth, and above the earth.
And it was Isaiah the prophet who captures this and with this I close this morning:
“I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”
At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.
“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”
Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”
Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”
Do you know where effective prayer begins? It begins on our faces before God.
Yes, as sons and daughters. Yes, as co-heirs with Christ! Yes, as King’s kids. But still on our faces before the Almighty God.
Do you want your prayers to be effective? Fall on your knees before Him whose name we can’t even say!
Here you can find several messages. Feel free to write your thoughts or questions in the comment section.